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Quality and Authority: Relevance Alone Is Not Enough

     
8:30 pm on Jun 17, 2006 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member



One complaint I hear a lot in this forum is that MSN Search fails to identify "quality" sites or "authority" sites. I'd actually be interested in hearing your collective idea of what these terms mean. It's hard for me to respond intelligently to this type of concern if I'm not sure we mean the same thing by the words.

Here are a few questions to get us started:

Does quality include the appearance of a site, or only the content? How about the organization of a site?

Can a site be an authority if it's not government, educational, or from a big corporation?

Is it possible for an authority to not be quality?

I realize this is a bit different from the usual sort of discussion we have here, but I hope I'm not the only one who'd welcome a little variety.

5:04 am on Jun 18, 2006 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



Once a human judge goes through the process of answering the ten questions provided above, he/she can easily pick from your final four:

Authority
Quality
Both
Neither

Note that this is the same problem I face when I try to respond to a message telling me that a query for "cheap widgets" has lost all the authority sites with the new update. If I want to respond, I have to look at all the old/new sites and decide which ones are/were authorities. (Or quality; same issue.)

With all due respect, unless you yourself are a human authority on any given topic, you can't possibly do a fly by and expect to "know" which sites (out of possibly thousands) are the "current" authority sites.

So that's what I'm after here; I want to see if we can agree on a definition of quality and authority that at least lets us come up with roughly the same count when we look at a results page.

Are you looking for "count" ... as in quantity of sites ... or are you looking for quality/authority? I am confused!

[edited by: Liane at 5:06 am (utc) on June 18, 2006]

5:05 am on Jun 18, 2006 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



Sorry dup entry.
5:22 am on Jun 18, 2006 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



I would dispute that quality or authority are things you can "just know." Sometimes that happens, especially if you yourself are knowledgeable in the subject, but sometimes it takes a while to get past first impressions to discern what's really good or not-so-good about a site.

True ... to a degree. But there are times when after really delving into a site or topic, one can be reasonably confident that the information provided was top notch!

It's often easier to spot fakes and wannabe's than it is to discern true authority.

Very true! If it were easy to spot authority, my site would be number one for everything to do with my topic(s)! :)

5:25 am on Jun 18, 2006 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member



No problem. If someone says "with the old version, when I queried for widgets, I got 8 or 9 quality results, but today I only get three," I'd like to issue the same query and get about the same numbers. If I don't get the same numbers, I'd like to be fairly confident that something is amiss. (Or that the person felt his/her site was the only quality/authority site.) :-)

Anyway, this complaint that we "lost all/most of the quality/authority sites" is common enough that I think it's important to really understand it. That's all I'm trying to do here.

5:50 am on Jun 18, 2006 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



Anyway, this complaint that we "lost all/most of the quality/authority sites" is common enough that I think it's important to really understand it. That's all I'm trying to do here.

I get it now and I agree with the complaint. I can only speak authoritatively on my own topic so I will just reiterate what many have already observed:

It appears that MSN have turned up the knob on keywords in URL and title in regards to identifying important sites. In many cases, your top one or two results are a good starting point, but I find when searching on MSN of late that once you get past the first one or two sites and if you are still looking for more info ... (which is often the case), the third, fourth and even up to the tenth ranking sites are piddly, little, no-nothing sites which have been well optimized for their keywords ... but contain no meat!

Just because those keywords are used in the title or the url of these piddly, little, no-nothing sites ... does not mean they should necessarily show up in the top 10 or 20 or even the top 100 results!

THAT is what the complaints are about. In my opinion and if we can agree that the questions above would likely help identify true "authority" sites, MSN has not achieved that as yet. No search engine has ... but Google is certainly closer than most.

Although MSN is delivering "some" pertinent sites in the top ten results, they are not delivering the most pertinent and most informational results possible for any given query string. Quite often, the "real" authority sites are being buried.

[edited by: Liane at 5:54 am (utc) on June 18, 2006]

5:53 am on Jun 18, 2006 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member steveb is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



"So then could a single query have more than one authority site? If so, how do you distinguish authority from quality?"

Well again this is an underlying problem.

The official site for a movie is an authority, but it isn't necessarily the best authority or the highest quality site. In my niche there are a few dozen authority sites, but I'll use the movie analogy since it is pretty obvious. When talking about a specific movie, authority sites would include the official site, but it would possibly also include Roger Ebert's review page and a few dozen similar. It could also include fan or scholarly sites devoted to the specific movie. What would not be an authority is irs.gov mentioning the movie title, or the New York Times reporting the box office for one weekend.

The bottom line is that engines totally suck at what Conan Doyle said:

"Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself, but talent instantly recognizes genius."

High quality sites, especially ON THE TOPIC, recognize the authority of the other highest quality sites. These authorities in turn tend to recognize the other authorities (the cool guys hang with the cool guys). They don't all recognize all the the others, but the "web" of sites that know what they are talking about interweaves with other sites that know what they are talking about ON THE TOPIC.

blogspot.com is authority on nothing, other than how to provide free blog space.

6:33 am on Jun 18, 2006 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



Based on your clarification of what it is you are trying to achieve:

Anyway, this complaint that we "lost all/most of the quality/authority sites" is common enough that I think it's important to really understand it. That's all I'm trying to do here.

... I decided to use my own list of questions to evaluate the top listed site for the search I performed yesterday on MSN to see if the list was complete or not. I discovered it isn't.

1) Were all or most of your questions answered by visiting this site? No
2) Was the information provided clear and concise? No (The site is impossible to navigate)
3) Were photographs or images provided to assist you to better understand the topic? Yes
4) Were the photographs or images of reasonable quality? No (Too small and blurred)
5) Do you consider this an important site to the topic? Yes
6) Do you believe this site offers up-to-date and accurate information? Yes
7) Was the site easy to navigate and find the information you required? No
8) Was the site easy to read? Yes
9) Was the information provided "complete"? No
10) If you had to pick 10 sites to recommend to your friends on this topic, would this site be included? Yes

If "Yes", how would you rate this site on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being best)? 10

Note: The only reason I would include it is because it is the manufacturer's site! Believe me when I say it is one of the worst sites I have ever seen!

I would add the following questions to the above.

11) Were you able to find what you consider to be the best site on this topic in the first 10 MSN results? No

12) Did you go past the first ten results on MSN to find more information on this topic? No (Granted ... I am the impatient type.)

a) If "Yes", how many search results did it take to find the answers you were looking for? ____
b) If "No", did you give up your search? No
c) If "No", did you go elsewhere to find the information? Yes
d) Were you successful in finding the information elsewhere? Yes (not me but the fellow I hired and who will be installing the equipment was successful in finding the info)
e) If you were ultimately successful in finding the information, where did you find it? Google - first result!

2:53 pm on Jun 18, 2006 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member



I'm in interested that an authority site could have such low quality as to be unusable. Since we're in business to serve our customers, it's hard to justify making much of an effort to find or serve that kind of authority though. In fact, the Japanese-language site for an automobile might be a great authority, but we still don't want to serve it to our US customers. Perhaps we need an independent category "authoritative but useless."

I'm also interested in SteveB's implication that a quality site could be off-topic. Do you (any of you) think that quality is query-independent? I've been thinking of both quality and authority as a property of results, not just a property of a site.

It makes the discussion a lot easier, though, if authority depends on the query but quality does not. So webmasterworld would be a quality site, and would be an authority for queries like "webmaster information" but not for queries on medical issues.

Or is that not how people really use the terms?

3:09 pm on Jun 18, 2006 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



Interesting conversation, msndude...

I would have thought it was self-evident that a quality site may not be authoritative and vice versa.

Of course, it depends on your definition of quality, and I find the discussion of things like usability interesting in this sense, since so much depends then on personal taste/prejudice (do you go for w3c standards/accessibility/latest fads?).

As usual, my close-named neighbour steveb hits it near the head when he talks about quality as we here tend to understand it in the sense of govt./newspaper/prestigious independent. The Economist or NYT or Lonely Planet may have quality coverage of the areas that they cover but they are not necessarily an authority on the subject.

Wikipedia (for example) may have authoritative coverage in many subject areas (for example, tiny towns) where virtually no other information is available but their content in general is often far from quality.

>>In fact, the Japanese-language site for an automobile might be a great authority, but we still don't want to serve it to our US customers.
The point that most here would make, I presume, is that it wouldn't be an authority for the US consumer but it would be for the Japanese consumer. If you are meaning that the work involved in identifying the difference is too difficult or time-consuming for your engine, then that is giving the discussion parameters which you didn't define earlier...

3:59 pm on Jun 18, 2006 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member



It makes the discussion a lot easier, though, if authority depends on the query but quality does not.

There's the rub for every search engine, for each niche query, what comprises authority and quality can change.

4:03 pm on Jun 18, 2006 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Administrator buckworks is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



Let's not confuse "the official site" for something with a true "authority". A site might be both but those two concepts are nowhere near the same thing.

I just visited Dictionary.com to look up "authority". Some of the definitions are not relevant here, but these are:

"An accepted source of expert information or advice..."
"A quotation or citation from such a source..."
"Power to influence or persuade resulting from knowledge or experience..."

Note the recurring emphasis on expertise and knowledge. You can't be an authority in the scholarly sense unless you truly know what you're talking about. Quality comes first!

"Authority" in the scholarly sense is an endorsement granted by others who recognize the quality of what you present. One cannot simply claim "authority" for oneself ... it has to be earned through the informed judgements of others. Those judgements might be nudged along by self-promotion, but that's a different discussion. This is much more than just a popularity contest.

I'm sitting here wondering how a search engine could discern between a site that is a true authority and one that is merely popular.

This all leads to the age-old question, "What is truth?"

4:42 pm on Jun 18, 2006 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



Authority on a basic level imo is about content and links to that content.

A site with a high volume of pages about the subject matter - not auto generated junk but unique content perhaps static pages written about the subject. Depth of content and volume has to be relevent imo.

Links to the site, lots of them over a period of time. If sites are linking to it then in most cases the site adds value. A link in a way is a vote of confidence, if other sites are voting for that site its more likely to be an authority on the subject or adds value.

As a general rule authority sites imo should only link out (if at all) to sites on the subject matter or related that may benefit the end user not to any old site - whilst we may see exceptions generally an authority site gets far more one way links and doesnt link out to off toppic sites imo

Also, a quick way to improve your index is to not list sites with less than 10 pages or bloggs unless you have reviewed them. Sorry but imo this would eliminate self generated sites designed to spam your index and the poor low quality end of the market.

One thought, i dont know if this is possible or viable but you could charge say $600 (300)for sites to be listed in your OWN directory and use that data for your serps quality - Thats one true way of ensuring you have quality control. If your own staff have been to a site and confirmed its a quality site of benefit to the end user you know its ok to list! - spammers imo will not pay a few hundred pounds a time for sites to be listed and reviewed they tend to have lots of autogenerated sites linked from networks.

Final point - dont go down the route of using DMOZ data, i know your team have looked at this but even an idiot can tell from close check that a lot of the listed sites are from biased editors, some of its fine but a lot of its junk - if you want directory data you need to use your own not coppy some one elses.

6:43 pm on Jun 18, 2006 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member



I will try and keep this simple.
The user expects certain sites or a good search engine should offer good results.
example when you type in (auctions) you would expect Ebay and yahoo as the top 2.
on Msn I can't find it. On yahoo and google they are 1 &2
7:53 pm on Jun 18, 2006 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member



If I can paraphrase a bit, this is saying that an authority is a site that users expect to see in response to a query. That means it has to be well-known -- at least to people who issue that kind of query. "Authority" in this sense implies (to me) that a site already has a reputation with a significant fraction of users. The actual page, though, might be so recondite as to be useless to any but the most expert user.

Given that definition of Authority, it would seem that Quality would be about accuracy and completeness of the result. A quality result would be complete, accurate, and useful to an average user -- even if most users had never heard of the site before.

This makes for a very clean split between the two terms (which is nice), if I've interpreted your posting correctly. It's a bit different from most of the other ideas, though.

8:16 pm on Jun 18, 2006 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member



If I was msn I would take the results from google and yahoo an tweak them. Then you would be the best.
Google has many good sites but they are missing alot of fresh content because of there age factor and to many filters.
Yahoo has a mix of google and yahoo but have a lot of penalized sites have never came back.
This leave room for a combination of the two to deliver ther best with a small improvment.
I would leave room on each first page for one or two new listing.
The brazil results is like a mix of the two but need to test it somemore, now all you need to do
is fine adjustments, I am free for consultations for a price regards to Bill Gates.
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